Friday, December 2, 2011

Merry Digital Christmas

Are you looking to buy a new computer for your favorite geek this Christmas? Do you get as overwhelmed as I do when shopping for one? The choices are dizzying nowdays so the best I can do in this little column is pass along a few pointers to consider.  As always, I am happy to offer free advice over the phone and it’s worth every penny so call or email me if you get stuck.

In general, plan to buy as much computer as you can reasonably afford. I suggest coming up with a budget then go out and buy as much as you can within that budget. Plan to spend $400 to $500 for a complete computer (including monitor) for grandma, $500 to $700 for a family computer. Add about $100 to each category for laptop computers. Laptops are cool but break expensively so don’t buy one unless you really need the portability. Dollar for dollar, you get more bang for the buck with a desktop computer.

When buying a new Windows 7-equipped computer, RAM is ultra-important. 2 gigabytes (GB) of RAM is okay for grandma, 3GB is better and 4GB or more is best.  Unless you plan to produce home movies or download thousands of songs, hard drive size really doesn’t matter. Any new computer will come with far more hard drive space than most people will ever use.  

Apple computers tend to have the most reliable hardware and best technical support but you will pay dearly for a computer made by Apple.  So if you are looking to save money and still get the job done, stay with a PC from leading manufactures.

In our experience, there is no “best” brand of desktop computer. That claim is supported by Consumer Reports which has a ranking from best to worst but the difference between the top and bottom is only 3 percentage points. Durability is another matter. Each manufacturer sells junky low-end systems as well as very nice higher-end systems.  You generally get what you pay for so let price be your guide.

The “technical support” from all the manufacturers but Apple is abysmal. But, again, Apple can afford it because they are so darn expensive.

Be sure the computer has a 1 year warranty.  Some manufacturers try to slip in a mere 90-day warranty.  Unless they are free, steer away from extended warranties and “protection plans.”   They are almost pure profit for retailers and rarely worth the price. While I’m at it, don’t let the big box retailers pressure you into buying anti-virus software or ANY extras for that matter--especially the snake oil they sell to you as “computer optimization.” That is simply a rip off.

Almost all inkjet printers are junk these days.  If you have any problems with them, you usually have to throw them away.  Spend as little as possible on the printer unless you have some specific needs that require higher-end stuff. Happy holidays!

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